The Secret Agent

The Secret Agent Summary and Analysis of Chapter III


Mr. Verloc hosts a meeting of three radicals in the back parlor behind his shop. Each of these men is of a unique appearance and political conviction: Michaelis is a fat, unhealthy man with a blind belief in the progress of history towards societal revolution; Karl Yundt is an old man who prides himself on being a terrorist, though he has only ever enticed others to action; and Alexander Ossipon is a physically imposing man, an ex-medical student who judges the world in terms of the currently fashionable scientific theories. However, as Mr. Verloc later notes, all three men are united in their financial dependence upon women and their general fecklessness.

The conversation of these three radicals serves as an exposition of their respective personalities, which only end up in impasses, veiled insults, and monologues. After they leave, Mr. Verloc despairs that he will ever be able to get from these men the kind of action Mr. Vladimir has instructed him to organize. Mr. Verloc closes his shop and turns off the gas, but notices that Stevie, who has been observing the meeting, is overexcited and will not go to bed. As he undresses and gets into bed with Mrs. Verloc, she remarks that Stevie takes the bombastic rhetoric of the radicals too literally, and that he is too sensitive for his environment.


This chapter is most interesting as a display of contrasting personalities – Michaelis, Yundt, and Ossipon – along with a perspective that at once transcends them and finds itself imbricated with them – that of Mr. Verloc. Each of the three radicals not only monologues but essentially reproduces an image of himself and his views (the two of which are more or less identical); they are rather one-track personalities and would not be especially interesting were they not brought into conversation with each other, revealing certain unexpected similarities and differences.

The most voluble monologist of them all, Michaelis, gets the first words of the chapter – and presumably a whole lot before then, given the ellipses which precede his speech: “…All idealisation makes life poorer. To beautify it is to take away its character of complexity—it is to destroy it. Leave that the moralists, my boy. History is made by men, but they do not make it in their heads…” (31) It would seem that Yundt is following this line of argument when he says next: “I have always dreamed … of a band of men absolute in their resolve to discard all scruples in the choice of means, strong enough to give themselves frankly the name of destroyers, and free from the taint of that resigned pessimism which rots the world” (32). However, an accusation of “pessimism” against Michaelis throws the later into a fit of insistence that he is, in fact, an optimist, a ridiculous burst of impotent emotion that not only reveals his pettiness but also the inability of the three to actually hold a conversation despite the fact that they are supposed to all be comrades of a shared cause.